When Aaron Ausmus, the newly-hired Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for Football at Ole Miss, was a youngster growing up in LaFollete, TN, his allegiance naturally gravitated to the University of Tennessee.
"I grew up being a Big Orange fan, so that is where I wanted to go to school," said Ausmus,
Even though he won the state championship in the shot put and discus his senior year against the best competition the prep ranks of Tennessee had to offer, Aaron was not offered a scholarship at UT.
"Tennessee is a weak state in the throws in high school track, so it wasn't surprising to me that I didn't get a scholarship. My numbers weren't as good as the state champs from some surrounding states," he explained. "So I just decided to be a walk-on."
A funny thing happened between his last high school meet and enrollment at Tennessee – he won the Junior Olympics in the shot.
"I was about six months too late with the numbers necessary for a scholarship. Once I got to those numbers at the Junior Olympics, all the scholarship money had been promised for the next year," Aaron noted. "I didn't start throwing until I was a junior in high school. My technique improved a lot between the state championships and the Junior Olympics."
His true freshman year at UT, he redshirted and worked on his "game." His redshirt freshman year, Ausmus' distances were enough to earn him a scholarship.
"I was a 230-pounder when I went to UT. At the end of my fifth year, I weighed 280 and had made a great deal of strength gain. The strength coaches at UT pushed me hard and I bought in to what they were telling me," he noted. "I came to Tennessee power cleaning 225 pounds and left cleaning 360. In the squat, I went from 400 to 660. Those are explosive lifts that help throwers immensely. I also improved as an overall athlete. In high school, I weighed 210-230 pounds and I could barely touch a basketball rim. As a junior at UT, I weighed 275 pounds and could do a two-handed dunk. The point I'm making is not about me – it's about the effectiveness and power of a great strength and conditioning program with driven coaches."
The progression in the shot was evident. As a true freshman, he threw the 16-pound shot 51 feet. As a redshirt frosh, he threw it 57 feet for a third-place finish in the SEC. As a sophomore, he threw the shot 58 feet and got third again in the SEC. As a junior, he catapulted to 63 feet and got beat in the SEC Championships by an inch.
Aaron flipped the tables, however, in the 1997 NCAA Championships by winning the national championship by two inches over his SEC foe.
After a national championship year, Ausmus figured he was setting himself up for another run at a national title as a senior.
"I'm not an excuse-maker, but injuries did me in that year. It was very disappointing. I had ankle surgery in the middle of the indoor season and only competed in four events the whole year. It was very discouraging because I was being beaten by guys who I used to whip regularly," he said. "I was weak and out of shape because I spent all my time rehabbing the ankle. Everything happens for a reason, though, so I dealt with it."
His track career at Tennessee produced the "reason." He cherished his time in the weight room and what training hard had done for him.
"I always liked the weight room. After my senior year, I didn't know what I was going to do. My Dad, who is a brick mason, told me I could always come work with him," he smiled. "About two weeks from graduation, UT Strength Coach John Stuckey approached me about being a graduate assistant in the S&C department. I helped with football and helped Chris Carlisle with the track team. Coach Stuckey told me he knew I didn't have any experience, but he wanted his athletes to be around someone who worked as hard as I did. That sparked me and gave me valuable experience. We won the national title in football in 1998 my first year. I felt real lucky to be involved in that. I didn't feel like I was a big part of it because the other strength coaches had put in four and five years to get to that point and I had put in less than six months, but I got a ring and was very proud for them and to have been a small part of it."
Ausmus stayed through the 1998 season at UT. The Volunteers went to the Fiesta Bowl. He also had a big change personally – he got engaged to Andrea Pappas, an All-American thrower for the women's track team.
When his GA tenure ended, he was working with his brother for a chemical company and was volunteering in the weight room at UT, "just to keep my foot in the door."
His connection to the UT S&C program paid dividends. Carlisle was offered the head S&C job at Southern Cal and he wanted to take Aaron with him in a fulltime capacity. Newly married, needing a job and wanting to stay in the S&C field, he and Andrea packed their bags and moved to sunny SoCal.
"My family didn't want us to go. They wanted us to stay closer to home, but I couldn't pass that opportunity up," he stated. "My three years there were tremendous. We won a national championship in 2003 and I felt a part of it. It was more rewarding than the one at UT because I was vested in the one at USC. I had helped with taking those kids from freshmen to a national title. When anyone wants to see my NC rings, I show them the USC one first because I truly felt a part of it."
Nick Holt, who coached linebackers at USC, took the Idaho head coaching job. He called Ausmus and offered him the head S&C job at Idaho.
"I wasn't interested at first – it's a small D1 program, it's cold, it's a long way from home. But I was applying for some head S&C jobs and the bottom line was that schools wanted someone with head S&C experience," he continued. "I decided to go run my own program at Idaho. They had a great weight room, a new facility and the kids worked hard. It was a good experience. In a perfect world, I would have preferred staying at Idaho a year longer. But when Coach (Ed) Orgeron took the Ole Miss job, he called me and said he wanted me on board if there was an opening.
"It was a no-brainer for me. I'm in the best football conference in America heading up the strength and conditioning for an SEC football program, I'm easy driving distance to my family, Adrea is a lot closer to her family in Florida and we get to compete for championships here. We feel like we are home."
Ausmus is excited about the new facility at Ole Miss, particularly the weight room.
"We have the right equipment in the weight room for the program we run. We have 12 platforms that are very versatile and universal. You can do several lifts out of each piece of equipment and that's very efficient in a weight room," he stated. "The versatility of the equipment we have makes a bigger weight room unnecessary.
"Everything we have, equipment-wise, helps our players become better athletes. When you can get the ankle, knee and hip to fire at the same time and lock out, it helps you to become a better athlete and benefits running, jumping, tackling, blocking. They are not necessarily movements exclusive to football, but they are movements all athletes use and need. That is part of the beauty of being a strength and conditioning coach – there's not a lot of difference in the training from sport to sport. Athletes are athletes. You give the coaches a better product, or athlete, and let them put them in the right spots to perform. There are some different requirements from sport to sport, but they are minor."
Ausmus will monitor the nutrition of the football team.
"We have a good supplement program here. If a player is losing too much weight during practices, we will monitor that and help that kid get back on the right track. We will keep a constant watch on each individual player's weight, body fat, etc. If something isn't right, we'll adjust their nutritional program," he explained.
Ausmus and Coach Orgeron are both believers in speed and in helping players develop speed via proper training and technique.
"The biggest thing with speed is getting kids to buy into proper movement, technique and training effort to gain speed. I'm not one who is into a bunch of speed gadgets, but the background I come from is to teach kids how to run. Stand tall, drive out of their starts and so on. Then they come into the weight room and do the triple extension movements and it's the same as the movements in running," he noted. "I try to educate kids that working on speed is a combination of actually running with good technique and lifting with good technique. They are essentially the same movements.
"When athletes realize that, and are educated about speed, they put more effort into getting faster. The reality of speed is that to gain speed you have to have proper running technique and you have to get the motor of the body – from the knee to under their chest – more powerful, they will become faster. I have seen kids go from a 5.0 40 to a 4.8 or a 4.6 to in the 4.4s by doing the things we will teach. That's not going to happen in a year, but it will happen if they give the effort for two to two-and-a-half years. A kid with an extensive track background will usually have good technique, but if you make their core – their motor – stronger, you can help them shave a tenth off their 40 times. It's like watching a Ferrari with the nice lines but it's being driven by a four-cylinder motor. It's pretty, but it won't run. You get that motor to a V-8 and all of a sudden it not only looks good, it runs faster. All kids are different, but there are things you can do to increase speed in just about anyone, given the proper length of time and the proper desire of a kid to do so."
Ausmus believes in players following the lead of their coaches. His method of operation falls right in line with the high energy delivery of Orgeron and his staff.
"We will set an energetic, loud tone in our workouts. We will constantly talk about explosion and driving hard and finishing lifts and drills. They will understand how important we feel proper weight training and conditioning is. They will get that by osmosis, from how we project ourselves in workouts," said Aaron. "That's how I was coached. Tommy Moffet (now at LSU) coached me with great energy and motivated me. Coach Carlisle and Coach Stuckey had those qualities as well – those are my three mentors and are highly respected in our field.
"We all steal, so to speak, things from each other. The guys I respect and have worked and played under were all high energy, demanding coaches. They were motivators and educators. That's what I want to bring to Ole Miss."
Ausmus is a get-in-and-get-out kind of coach as well.
"If we handed players their workout and said ‘get it done,' it would probably take them 2-2 ½ hours. We get everything done in half that time. We don't stand around. If they want water, they run to the water fountain. It's all about tempo. We don't sit down in here – there's no time to," he concluded. "I'm also happy to be working with (Coordinator of S&C) Noel Durfy because he and I think alike. He was a GA at UT when I was an athlete there.
"The things he learned at UT under Coach Stuckey were the same things I learned. Then we both went to two or three different schools and learned some more stuff. We are on the same wave length. He's shown me some things I have learned and I've shown him some things. We are preaching the same gospel. We are both demanding and can be a drill sergeant type, but we are also educators, I feel."
Ausmus will direct football S&C program
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